Friday, March 9, 2012

What Is Ham Radio?

The easiest answer “almost anything you want it to be”. That probably sounds trivial to someone not familiar with all the activities that hams find to include in their hobby.  But take a step back and consider all the ways you communicate in today’s world that are not face to face.  Cell phone is a two way radio.  Email is available through packet radio.  Skype is not unlike amateur TV.  The list goes on.  Ham radio uses GPS technology to provide positioning systems over radio link just like smart phones.  Remote weather reporting techniques over packet radio links not unlike weather bug.  Satellite communications and even radio communications bounced off the moon and meteor trails.  Hams are converting WIFI systems to ham bands to set up communications networks for ham radio operations.  Recently a group of hams launched and tracked a balloon across the Atlantic Ocean clear into the central Mediterranean.  And what does that all mean.  It means that ham radio is one of the most unlimited and diverse hobbies around.  You can specialize in one or two areas or many. 

Now if you’re thinking why would I go to the trouble and expense?  I have a smart phone.  To that I would say this.  Ham radio still works when all other forms of communications fail.  Hams are not dependent on internet, cell towers, phone lines, or even satellites.  This is because most ham gear is designed to run from 12 volts.  With almost any car battery and a length of wire for an antenna and a ham will get up and running.

Amateur Radio also has a public service aspect that many people don’t even realize.  If you have been to a parade, a bike race, foot race, a community fair or celebration, or a public emergency that involved many people, there were probably several hams with their radios, providing communications services.  These may have included traffic and parking coordination with the public safety folks, communications at first aid stations, sag wagon communications at bike races, lost children assistance, search party communications, communications for logistics at wild fires and other disasters, shelter communications in disaster areas, health and welfare messages in/out of disaster areas.  The list is nearly endless.  It might be said that ham radio operators are the silent communicators because we go unnoticed most of the time.  We use our own equipment, provide our own transportation, bring our own food, water and shelter in many cases, and sometime even risk our lives so that messages, emergency and otherwise, get passed along.  We do it all for love of the hobby and community service.  We don’t get paid.

If you are reading this and you are not a ham, consider looking into the hobby.  There is a niche for nearly every interest.  If ham radio is not for you, that’s ok too.  But next time you’re out and about at an event and you see that geeky looking gale or guy with a two way radio, ask “Are you a ham?” and a say thanks for helping out.  He or she will probably be a little embarrassed and not know what to say, but it will be appreciated.

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